Arts Desk

D.C. Shorts, Family Films: Explaining Existentialism to Kids

Short reviews of films from this year's DC Shorts Film Festival

Impulse control is one of the most reliable kids-movie themes: Somebody—either protagonist or antagonist—crosses a line, and after about 75 minutes of joke-laden tribulation, a paradigm shifts and everybody grows in one way or another. Line-crossing is even more useful in short flicks, because it gets things going right away, and the resolution doesn't need to be deeply layered. So in this showcase, most films begin with characters reaching too far, trusting too much or being too careless—things that kids are really good at and adults never really outgrow. There's not a lot of overt moralizing, but there's a concrete lesson or two. And, yeah, some of the films are just plain sweet.

The Maiden and the Princess: Our heroine smooches a girl and likes it. Why can't more fairy tales be like that? Ask the creepy guys who run storyland. It's a clever idea, but it could've been more cleverly executed.

Tinytopia: An environmental parable involving puppets on the forest floor. Wait, does that pink puffball represent poop?

The Washing Machine: A mildly morbid and quietly funny take on the magical thinking so common in kids’ movies.

Catch and Release: Certainly not the best computer animation you'll ever see, but the twist at the end is kind of nice. Because, really, fish-tossing can only be so romantic.

Brad and Gary: An animated duo’s fingers go where they’re not supposed to go. The dudes are suitably punished by some high-quality slapstick.

Barney and the Martians: This one seems like it's going to get weirder (lonely old guy, ham radio, eager neighborhood kid), and then it doesn't. But it's still kind of weird.

Asternauts: One brother wants to talk to aliens, the other doesn't. There's a big crash in the barnyard. If you had to explain existentialism to a 9-year-old, this one might make a good teaching aid.

A Martian Picnic: Eat your food, or it will be eaten by aliens. Every youngster has to learn this. It's debatable, however, whether the grueling medium of stop-action animation brings anything new to the issue.

Saturday, Sept. 8 at 11:30 a.m. at E Street Cinema (followed by Q&A)

Saturday, Sept. 15 at noon at Atlas Performing Arts Center

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